30 June 2008

No More Babies

For many of us who live in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods, we've been privvy to a sort of mini population explosion over the past few years. I don't necessarily want to say that Williamsburg is becoming the new Park Slope, but it's definitely heading in that direction. Most of my friends, at least at this stage in their lives, are anti-breeders, so such a trend is discouraging. To many demographers this is welcome news however. The U.S. has the industrial world's highest birth rate, a whopping 2.1%, that far surpasses its European and Asian rivals. What's happening there do you ask? Declining birth rates and steady population losses. Yesterday's NYTimes Magazine had a feature article by Russell Shorto that outlined many of the issues surrounding the "problem" of population loss.

I, for one, don't consider this to be an actual problem. Truthfully, I think it's a good thing societally and ecologically, but I'm in the minority. Luckily, there are some folks out there (in the former East Germany) who are thinking creatively about their demographic issues and don't see it as a problem but as a chance for some creative thinking about urbanism and how we live today. Here's an excerpt of a piece I just wrote over on the Helium.com site on this topic:

What if "dying" cities began to reclaim abandoned urban spaces for localized agricultural purposes? That would not only be a smart ecological move, but it could foster a sense of pride in place and tie existing residents to the "soul" of the city. Who knows, that may encourage people to have kids to grow up and inherit this city with newfound love.
There are many cities whose population bases are shrinking but can't seem to get out of the "We must grow and expand to survive!" mode of thinking. Unfortunately they can't seem to realize that their time in the sun is over and they must move on, establish a new rationale for existing. As I mention in my article, Detroit is a city that could use some new thinking like this. So much of that landscape is comprised of (nearly) contiguous abandoned buildings and empty lots that they could establish all manner of parks, urban gardens, local farm plots. Of course a lot of work and bureaucratic wrangling would have to occur, but it's not beyond the scope of actual planning. Population decrease doesn't have to be the monumental catastrophe that too many people are making it out to be, but it does require a shift in our thinking; a shift in our perceptions of where our societies should be heading and the goals we should really be focusing on.

27 June 2008

Have More Dessert! You Need To Eat Your Dessert!

Just to make sure I'm never lacking in projects I could/should be working on instead of procrastinating, I started up with a couple sites that I will eventually link to when I get the ball rolling. However, those all being within my favored realm of "non-fiction-esque" ramblings, I've also started up a place to publish more fictional type things. That site is named Quietly Take To The Ship and I've placed a link over in the sidebar lest you care to visit and see what my imagination is up to on any given day.

Did I realize that both my blogs have the word "ship" in the title? Yes, yes I did. I did that on purpose, thank you very much.

25 June 2008

Today's Failed Experiment

Well, it appears my attempt at live-blogging today's game was an utter failure. Not even ten minutes into the game the Coveritlive program I was using repeatedly went "offline" even though I was online. So between trying to actually watch the game and get the thing working, I decided I'd rather watch the game. Luckily, that's exactly the point the game got going and Ügur Boral bundled in after a rebound off the woodwork. Should Lehmann have saved that shot? Most likely, but he tried to pull off a Casillas and block with his feet. So far Lehmann has been suspect in goal with a few misjudgments that are, well, fairly typical of an unfocused Jens.

Germany's goal through Schweinsteiger was a moment of brilliance and Turkey's defence should have done better with Podolski's cross, but otherwise it was a sweet move. Other than that move, though, I haven't seen that much from the Germans and was expecting more out of them. The Turks continue to impress with their movement off the ball and sheer determination to go on despite missing their three best players (and a few more). To make the game even better a clash of heads left Simon Rolfes to receive stitches above his left eye and his Turkish counterpart to get staples in his skull! F'ing staples, right on the sidelines!

Awesome, here comes the second half...

That was interesting. What proved to be a relatively uneventful half hour suddenly went black as lightning messed up the international feed. Of course, two goals were scored in the next seven minutes and the feed came back online. It's marginally reassuring that I wasn't the only one having technical problems today, but man, I really would like to see those goals. Luckily we got to see Lahm's winning goal before the screen went black again. I'm tempted to keep this headcold for another day, call out of work and watch tomorrow's match. Unfortunately I need the money and have to go in. Ugh, tomorrow's match should be awesome.

LiveBlog! Germany v. Turkey, Euro2008 Semifinal

Hey readers, join me here at 2:45pm (Brooklyn time) for my live coverage of Germany v. Turkey in today's Euro2008 Semifinal match.

24 June 2008

Salman Rushdie - The Enchantress of Florence

I'll just go ahead and say it: Rushdie's latest is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. It just might be the greatest I've ever read (though I'm not keeping score). Equal parts historical fiction and illusionary dreamscape, I found myself as enchanted by this read as those inside were by the Qara Köz (Lady Black Eyes).

The Enchantress of Florence weaves together fictionalized accounts of the lives of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, Niccolò Macchiavelli, Antonin Argalia (Argalia the Turk) and Amerigo Vespucci's cousin, Agostino. Extensive research was conducted to delicately place each of these men in space and time—Renaissance Tuscany and Mughal India—so that their historicity provides the backdrop upon which the existence of a mysterious lost Turkic princess unfolds. While it undoubtedly takes talent to develop complex characters who exist only in the imagination, to breathe life into long-passed historical figures is an even more noteworthy accomplishment.

Recent readings in eastern philosophy (by way of modern physics, no less) illuminated more of this text than I think I would have otherwise discovered. The ancient vedic concept of maya plays a major role in the story of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. The Western translation of this word as "illusion" tends to lose the nuance of the concept; as opposed to, say, a figment of the imagination, maya should more accurately be viewed as an outlook that deceives reality. Sure, Akbar's most beloved queen is certainly imaginary, but she is as much a part of his conception of the world as any actual physical entity. Our eyes play tricks on us and we interpret the world through our senses. Senses can be deceived and what constitutes "reality" may be far more than what our senses perceive.

Concepts like maya have not been a part of Western philosophy at all, and so when our reality deceives us we have often blamed them on the work of some outside actor instead of seeing them as a natural part of our universe, our human existence. Pre-Enlightenment Europe was continually privvy to witch-hunts and inquisitions that sought to find the living causes of our own misfortune and fate. The mind/body divide is present in Florence, but not in the seat of the Mughal Empire, Sikri.

What Rushdie is able to do in this novel is demonstrate the same-ness of these two approaches to understanding our existence. Though others may purposefully deceive us, just as often we are to blame for deceiving ourselves in our feeble attempts to explain what evades. However helpful human religious outlooks may be in navigating daily existence or providing meaning for events, the answers are always illusory and deceptive. The rogue traveller and storyteller Niccolò Vespucci—the Mogor dell'Amore, the "Mughal of Love—endears himself to the emperor, Akbar, with his near limitless ability to understand his environments and intellectual uncanny. Ultimately, he is undone by his own tale, for he has an important fact wrong and Akbar knows the truth. Of course, even this truth hides another story.
Literary themes aside for a moment, I just read the review in the NYTimes and thought the critic totally missed the point. Then again I'm a complete fiction novice and thought the magic and imagination quite charming. (full paradox disclosure: I play D&D and I loathe Tolkien) Anyway, for a rationalist non-fiction reader to be so enchanted by such a book must mean something, right? Well, even Mr. Gates concedes that it helps to be in the right mood to enjoy this, so presumably he was in a foul mood. Naturally, as a student of history I was caught up in the settings and historical figures and didn't let any "claptrap" bother me. What can I say, sometimes I'm in a good mood and this book helped keep me there.

23 June 2008

Made Out Of Babies - The Ruiner

I had seen the name Made Out Of Babies floating around on show listings for some time, but I hadn't given much thought into looking into them at all until recently. A few days back I read a rather promising interview/review of their latest record (it officially drops tomorrow, 6/24), The Ruiner. The band members' pedigree plus the fact their earlier work was released by Neurot intrigued me, so I was pleased to find that my roommate had a promo copy.

Beyond being pleased by the relative ease with which I landed the album, I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard. Let's not kid ourselves, Made Out Of Babies is a less-than-stellar band name, but whatever, it works for them and they seem to be doing just fine with it (there are worse names, to be sure). The review that I had read only vaguely hinted at the music imprinted in those tiny grooves, so all I knew to expect was female vocals from a band that, to paraphrase, jelled through a shared love of The Jesus Lizard. Now I must say that this record hardly sounds at all like that band (though early records may, I haven't gotten those yet), but it is dark, it has a distinct AmRep feel to it and it definitely rocks. Really, the first notable comparison I made was with heavier, later Milemarker sans-dance beats. The low end here is quite prominent with a chunkier bass distortion that contrasts perfectly with the flowing nature of the bass lines. The drums complement the bass as well, with constant pummelling rhythms emanating from some primal urge. As far as the rhythm section goes, the cavepeople cover art makes complete sense. I wouldn't immediately say the same for the guitars, but on second thought they are properly buzzed and melted together into a grafittoed wall, maybe early cave art; you can make out the details, however primitive at points, and the riffs are solid as rock.

What really ties the room together, however, are the vocals. I don't mean to harp on the fact that they're, "ooh, how novel, female vocals on a heavy record!" Singer Julie Christmas has the haunting voice of some childlike demon you don't want to encounter on your own. Hers is the siren voice that lured ancient sailors to their last breaths. Strong presence overall and a featherlight touch when necessity beckons, she really makes this band, because I can't imagine how male vocals could work with this material and really do it justice. She is the perfect counterweight to the leaden machine behind her. A really well engineered and produced record that should easily make it onto "top album" lists at the end of this year.

13 June 2008

Friday the 13th!

Great show happening tonight in Greenpoint, here's the lowdown straight from Hank

Friday, 6/13/08
@ Tommy's Tavern
1041 Manhattan Ave @ Freeman St
(just a few blocks from the G train at Greenpoint Ave; exit at India St.)

[bands below listed latest to earliest, i.e., STATS plays last and Ball Gov plays first.]

*STATS (myspace.com/stayfucked)
--->sounds a lot like Stay FKD

*Animal (myspace.com/animalmusic)
--->sparkling, angular guitar/drums vistas

*Thy Mighty Contract (myspace.com/thymightycontract)
--->cathartic postpunk beauty with a black-metal fascination

*Muscle Brain (myspace.com/musclebrain1)
--->St. Louis math-life duo with supernatural drive

*Ball Governor (myspace.com/ballgovernor)
--->real, unadorned free jazz for trumpet and drums; features Will Glass of Octagon and Nat Baldwin fame and STATS U. adjunct professor Russell Baker

Also, check out some video from the recent STATS show at The Charleston.
(and here's another one from that set)

06 June 2008

Yeah, Yeah, I Know...

I totally forgot to do my wednesday randomness again. That means it's not gonna be a regular feature. However, I missed it for three good reasons:

1) Yacht Rock. Somebody told me about this a while back and I forgot. Then I finally saw episode one and watched the next ten in succession. So awesome. (thanks, Julie!) You can go visit their site or just watch the episodes on YouTube.

2) Recording. Chris, our bassist, had an open day at his studio which we took advantage of to do demos and whatnot. I will be sending updates soon regarding band-related stuff as we have a new name (Maze Controller) after lineup changes and more songwriting...

3) The Wire. Thanks to Noga for lending me season 1 of The Wire. I used to work at the editing house where they did The Wire (this was just after season 1) and never knew what the hype was because I didn't have cable. Now I completely get it. This is worthwhile television (and yes, by that I mean to call it art).